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Foothill Philharmonic shares joy of music

The eight- and nine-year-old students filed into the multipurpose room at Vista del Valle Elementary School and took their seats on the floor in neat rows.

Laid out on tables in front of the class were musical instruments, along with pictures of The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

They fidgeted a bit, like most third graders, but once the presentation started they were all ears.

One by one, volunteers from the Foothill Philharmonic Committee came forward to explain the four families of the orchestra—strings, woodwind, brass and percussion—and to introduce the students to common, and not so common, symphonic instruments.

But the fun really got started once the introduction stopped. Divided into groups of ten or so, the students came forward for an opportunity to play the instruments. The cacophony that resulted was matched only by the children’s broad smiles as they blew tubas, banged on drums or drew bows across violins.

After an hour, the students departed and a whole new class appeared until every third grader at the school had taken part in the experience.  And, that is just one school. Before the committee is done, every third grade student in Claremont, as well as some in Pomona and Ontario, will attend the assembly.

This ambitions endeavor, called the Music Mobile, is one of the main outreach efforts made by the now 60-year-old committee. The idea is to expose the children to orchestral instruments and the music, one year before they will have an opportunity to start plying one as part of the CUSD music curriculum.

The Foothill Philharmonic Committee is one of 17 Los Angeles Philharmonic affiliate groups that support the orchestra by generating interest in symphonic music.

“The main purpose is to bring some education of music to the students,” Barbara Norton, the president of the Foothill Philharmonic Committee said. “We hope that when these students are in fourth grade and have the opportunity to start taking music lessons that they will have a better idea of what instrument they might want to play.”

Co-chairs of youth programs, Sue Keavney and Judy Maciariello, oversee the Music Mobile program, which includes driving into LA to get the instruments and the van.

They acknowledge that there might be some differences between the schools they visit as far as financial resources, but that all of the students are equal when it comes to enthusiasm.

“Children are children, and when they get to hold the instruments it always just ignites so much excitement for them. We really have a very easy job, as far as instilling the enthusiasm,” Ms Keavney said.

The most popular instruments—at least for the boys—were the drums, but this year for the first time they allowed the students to play the brass instruments, which were also popular. “And there were students who were able to get sound out of the tuba, we were amazed,” Ms Norton said.

When children get excited about music, then they want to study some instrument, any instrument. “It teaches them discipline. It teaches them how to work with others and how to be prompt. When you are in a group, like band, and rehearsal is at nine then you are there at nine or else you have everybody irritated with you,” Ms Keavney said. “And there is a lot of carry over into academics with the listening skills and the confidence.”

The idea for the Music Mobile began in the 1960s with the Pasadena affiliate. In 1973 Velma McKelvey brought it to Claremont, buying a van especially for the purpose, but the program ended just shy of ten years later. The committee brought the Music Mobile back in 2013 after it had been dormant for more than 30 years.

Other outreach programs for children include the Toyota Symphonies for Youth (TSFY) , which is an LA Phil concert series at Disney Hall for children 5 to 12 years old and their parents, grandparents, teachers or other chaperones. Each spring, Foothill Philharmonic purchases 200 tickets for a total of four TSFY programs at the current annual cost of $4,000. Those tickets are offered to school groups in the Claremont area along with partial funding for buses if needed.

The group also offers adult outreach with the annual speaker series. Next year Pomona College Professor Jon Bailey will talk about the American musical on Sunday, March 3 at Claremont United Methodist Church at 2 p.m.

In honor of their 60th anniversary, the group will perform a special program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in February, during which they will recognize the contributions of Dudley Rauch.

The Foothill Philharmonic Committee relies on fundraising to keep their programs operating. They raise money through a friends campaign through which donors are given tickets to LA Phil rehearsals. They also hold an annual gala usually in the spring.

This year there have been a number of special donations in honor of Ms. McKelvey, who died during the summer. Anyone who would like to get involved or donate money can contact the committee at foothillcommittee.org

—Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com